The Life Of A Conspirator Part 10

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[206] _The Foot out of the Snare._ By John Zee, London, 1624.

[207] _Gunpowder Plot_, p. 188-9.

As to his skill in making hiding-places, a Jesuit, Father Tanner, wrote of him that[208] "With incomparable skill he knew how to conduct priests to a place of safety along subterranean pa.s.sages, to hide them between walls, to bury them in impenetrable recesses, and to entangle them in labyrinths and a thousand windings. But what was much more difficult of accomplishment, he so disguised the entrances to these as to make them most unlike what they really were." "When he was about to design" a hiding-place, he commenced the work by "receiving the Most Holy Eucharist, sought to aid its progress by continual prayer, and offered the completion of it to G.o.d alone, accepting of no other reward for his toil than the merit of charity and the consolation of labouring for the good of Catholics."

[208] _Collectanea S. J._ See _Records of the Eng. Prov. S. J._, Vol. iv. pp. 247, 248.

As I have shown, it may pretty safely be a.s.sumed that he was at Gothurst early in October 1605, just after Sir Everard Digby had been initiated into the plot; and, as the hiding-places at Gothurst about to be described are believed to have been made between his initiation and the discovery, with a view to concealment in connection with the gunpowder plot, the work must in that case have been done during October.

[Ill.u.s.tration: GOTHURST

_The mark * shows the position of the secret room_

_Dawsors Ph Sc_]

Lips...o...b..thus describes them:--[209] "In one of the apartments was formerly shewn a movable floor, which, to ordinary observers, offered nothing remarkable in its appearance, but was made to revolve on a pivot, which, by a secret bolt, disclosed underneath it another room (receiving light from the lower part of a mullioned window, not discoverable exteriorily, unless at a very great distance)." From this secret room, he says "there were private pa.s.sages of ingress and egress," "almost impossible of detection, even by the occupiers of the Mansion. Here were also some remarkably ingenious cabinets and drawers, for the deposit of papers, &c." Mr Walter Carlile, the son of the owner, and the occupier of Gothurst, or Gayhurst, as it is now called, informs me that Lips...o...b..s description of the secret room is perfectly correct; that, although it was demolished twenty years ago, greatly to his own regret, there are still all the traces of where it was and how it was managed; and that the "priest's hole" and some secret pa.s.sages are yet in existence.

[209] _Hist. and Antiquities of the Co. of Bucks_, Vol. iv. p. 159.

The secret room was not in the princ.i.p.al front, with its picturesque porch and gables; but at the end, at the right; that is to say, on the right as one stood facing the front. In the middle of this end of the house was a solid, square-headed projection, and it was the upper half of the room on the first floor of this projection which was converted into the secret room. The result was that, in this secret chamber the window came down to the floor, but did not rise to the top of the room, being in fact the upper half of the window which lighted the room beneath it. As the entire window was almost twice as high as it was broad, and divided into two equal parts, it was very well adapted for the purpose.

Lips...o...b..was probably right in calling this "a very artful contrivance for the concealment of the parties to the Gunpowder Plot"; there is certainly a tradition to the same effect, and, as will have been observed, I have adopted it; at the same time I will say candidly that I sometimes ask myself whether, after all, the "contrivance," with its pivotted floor, may not have been only intended as a hiding-place for priests, and not for conspirators, a theory which is somewhat supported by the knowledge that Sir Everard Digby was going to leave and shut up Gothurst a few days before the explosion was to take place, and even still earlier was going to send his wife and children to Mr Throgmorton's house at Coughton, which he had taken for them.

The energies of the conspirators, especially those of such an earnest Catholic as Sir Everard Digby, would be stimulated during October by the news that, that very month, two priests and a layman had been put to death for their religion. [210] "They were executed together with sixteen thieves and eight other malefactors; and their heads were placed on London Bridge." A Spanish lady of high birth, who had come to England in the preceding May, wrote:--[211] "We can hardly go out to walk without seeing the heads and limbs of some of our dear and holy ones stuck up on the gates that divide the streets, and the birds of the air perching upon them; which makes me think of the verse in the Psalms, 'They have given the dead bodies of thy servants to be meat for the fowls of the air,'" etc. Admitting that there may have been some exaggeration in this statement, it was by no means devoid of foundation in fact. The reports of such things would give the conspiracy the colour of a crusade, to men anxious to see it a.s.sume that hue.

[210] _Before and after the Gunpowder Plot._ By E. Healy Thompson, p. 4.

[211] _Life of Luisa de Carvajal._ By Lady Georgiana Fullerton, p.


We shall presently see that Sir Everard intended to turn his steps towards Wales, when the blow should have been struck, making sure of the support of Catholics so persecuted as the Welsh and the inhabitants of the border counties. Here is something about them. Less than five months before the attempt to blow up the houses of parliament, the Protestant Bishop of Hereford wrote to Salisbury:--[212] "On Wednesday last, at evening, Sir James Scudamore and other justices of the peace, with such aid as I could give them, went unto the Darren and other places adjoining to make search and apprehend Jesuits and priests ... and did make diligent search all that night and day following, from village to village, from house to house, about thirty miles compa.s.s, near the confines of Monmouthshire, where they found altars, images, books of superst.i.tion, relics of idolatry, but left all desolate of men and women. Except here and there an aged woman or a child, all were fled into Wales, and but one man apprehended; all that circuit of rude barbarous people carried headlong into these desperate courses by priests (whereof there is great store) and princ.i.p.al gentlemen, lords of towns and manors there. They are all fled into the woods, and there they will lurk until the a.s.sizes be past." Rumours of the searches on the part of the "justices of the peace," "with such aid" as the Bishop of Hereford "could give them," would reach Gothurst and provoke Sir Everard. They remind one of the remark made by Cardinal Bellarmine on the Gunpowder Plot:--[213] "I excuse not the crime, I loathe unnatural murders, I execrate conspiracies, but no one can deny that provocation was given."

[212] S. P. Dom. James I., Vol. xiv. n. 52, June 22, 1605.

[213] Reply to the King's _Triplici nodo triplex cuneus_. See _The Month_, No. 366, p. 501.

The plan of campaign was doubtless discussed at great length at Gothurst during the early part of the month of October. Parliament was to meet at the beginning of November, and the great attempt was intended to be made about the 5th. No time, therefore, was to be lost in making provision for every contingency. Sir Everard was still anxious as to whether all the Catholic peers, and those peers who were friendly to Catholics, could, with any certainty, be induced to absent themselves from the House at the time of the explosion.

"a.s.sure yourself," said Catesby to him, "that such of the n.o.bility as are worth saving shall be preserved, and yet know not of the matter."[214] As to the remainder of the lords, he declared that he regarded them as "atheists, fools, and cowards, and that l.u.s.ty bodies would be better for the commonwealth than they."[215] There was considerable wrangling as to which of the peers were to be saved, and there was some diversity of opinion on the question--whether this or that Protestant lord was well-enough disposed towards Catholics and their religion to be worth rescue. For instance, some would have it that the Earl of Northumberland was likely to become a Catholic; but his relative, Percy the conspirator, said that[216] "for matters of relligion" he "trobled not much himselfe." Notwithstanding this statement, Percy earnestly begged that he might be one of the peers to be spared,[217] which was indeed only fair, considering that his rents were to be stolen for the purposes of the plot. Francis Tresham pleaded for his two brothers-in-law, Stourton and Mounteagle, both of whom were Catholics; Keyes for his great friend, Mordaunt; Fawkes for Montague, several for Arundel, and so on.

[214] Digby's Exam., 2nd Dec. 1605. S.P.O. Jardine's _Gunpowder Plot_, pp. 75-6.

[215] Keyes' Exam., 30th Nov. 1605. S.P.O. Jardine, p. 75.

[216] Cal. Sta. Pa., 1603-10, p. 262.

[217] Jardine, p. 74.

As to the plan of proceedings, when the explosion should have taken place with success, the great principle was to be to rally the Catholic gentry with their servants and retainers for a general rising in a central district. Gothurst was considered too far east for this purpose, and Warwickshire was selected as the base of operations for the volunteer Catholic army. It was true that that army did not yet exist; that the number of men at present initiated into the conspiracy was very small; and that the spirit in which the Catholics would receive the news of the wholesale ma.s.sacre of the King and his Parliament remained to be proved; but Catesby and his confederates, Sir Everard apparently among the number, were very sanguine.

Catesby, the originator, organiser, and leader of the whole proceeding, was to have the management of the grand explosion and the conduct of matters in London immediately afterwards, while Digby was to have the charge of the rising in Warwickshire, where Catesby was to join him, as occasion might serve. As a nucleus of his hoped-for army, Sir Everard was to take so many of his retainers as he could muster, with a quant.i.ty of arms in carts, to Dunchurch, a place very near Rugby, and to invite a large number of his trustworthy friends, likely to join in the cause, to come there with their horses and servants for a great "hunting-match" on Dunsmoor Heath.

Country gentlemen in our own times have often wondered what this "hunting-match" could be. Possibly it may have been a coursing meeting.

The foundation of the rules of coursing, in its modern sense, was the code drawn up by the Duke of Norfolk in the reign of Elizabeth,[218] and as Sir Everard had been a good deal at the Court of that Queen, and was devoted to field sports, it is not unreasonable to infer that the so-called "hunting-match" may have been ostensibly what we should call a coursing-meeting, with, perhaps, some hawking added. It was arranged that on the arrival of the guests invited to take part in it at Dunchurch, Sir Everard was to hint to them that a decisive blow of some sort was about to be struck in London, although they were not to be enlightened as to its nature until the news should arrive of its success. On the receipt of this news, Digby was at once to despatch a party to seize the Princess Elizabeth at the house of her governor, Lord Harington--he had been created Baron Harington of Exton in 1603--at his house near Coventry, and if Catesby should fail to secure the persons of the Prince of Wales or the Duke of York in the South, Digby was to proclaim her Queen. The little volunteer army in Warwickshire was then to seize the horses at Warwick Castle and the store of armour at Whewell Grange, Lord Windsor's house in Worcestershire, "and by that time," said Catesby, in unfolding his plan, "I hope some friends will come and take our parts."[219]

[218] _The Greyhound_, by Hugh Dalziel, 1887.

[219] R. Winter's Letter to the Lords. S.P.O. 21st Jan. 1605.

Jardine, p. 73.

Sir Everard was not going to leave his wife and children at Gothurst, between the great rallying centre of his expected army in Warwickshire and the possible opposing army which, in case of failure, might approach from London. On the contrary, he was anxious to place them on the further side of Warwickshire, so that the band of Catholic warriors might lie between them and the source of danger; at the same time he wished to have them within easy reach; and, for this purpose, he hired or borrowed from Mr Throckmorton, a house called Coughton (containing many "secret recesses"[220]), near Alcester, and about twenty-five miles from the primary rallying point at Dunchurch.

[220] _Records of the Eng. Prov. S. J._, Vol. iv. p. 34, footnote.

Sir Everard said in his examination in Nov. 1605, that he "did borrow a howse of Mr Thomas Throckmorton for one moneth, purposing to take it longer, or to enquire out some other if that were not to be had, if" his "wife should like to live there."[221]

[221] S. P. Domestic, James I., Vol. xvi. No. 94.

Being, in those days, a quadrangular house,[222] it could easily be defended in case of need. It is impossible that Sir Everard can have given Lady Digby the real reason for which he proposed to remove her there: the secret which he was keeping from her can scarcely have failed to cause some restraint between them, and it would be but natural that she should feel considerable uneasiness. Why, she would ask herself, should her husband, who had hitherto shared everything with her, now have something in hand which he was evidently concealing?

[222] Gorton's Topography, Vol. i. p. 518. The house at present belongs to Sir N. W. Throckmorton, Bart.

Another inmate at Gothurst was in a state of great anxiety, namely Father Garnet. The exertions to which his lay companion, "Little John,"

was put, at his host's request, to increase the secret pa.s.sages and make a hidden room, may have aroused his suspicions still further; but, after all, Gothurst would be no more ramified with such places of concealment than certain other houses; for instance, at Hendlip Hall, about four miles from Worcester, a house to which Father Garnet was to go within two months, to spend several weeks, a house, moreover, of much the same date as Gothurst, there was[223] "scarcely an apartment that" had "not secret ways of going in or going out"; some had "back stair cases concealed in the walls; others" "places of retreat in their chimneys; some" "trap-doors, and all" presented "a picture of gloom, insecurity, and suspicion." And well might the inmates of a Catholic family live in "gloom, insecurity, and suspicion," in those days of pursuivants, fines, hangings, and quarterings.

[223] _Beauties of England_, Vol. xv., Part I., p. 184. Jardine, p.

182. Nash, in his _Worcestershire_, quotes from Ashmole MSS., Vol.

804, fol. 93, the following:--"Eleven secret corners and conveyances were found in the said house, all of them having books, ma.s.sing stuff, and popish trumpery in them, only two excepted."

Father Gerard, who was a frequent visitor at Gothurst, observed with surprise that Sir Everard had a far larger number of horses than he had been accustomed to keep;[224] but, when it occurred to him that this might be because he was, for some reason or other, better off than before, he found that, on the contrary, he had been selling his farm-stock, and even some land, which puzzled him much, particularly in so prudent and careful a man, and the more so since he was aware that Sir Everard was going to pay the fine required of recusants by the statute, and was therefore in no danger of having his stock taken from him compulsorily.

[224] _Life of Father J. Gerard_, p. ccx.x.xvi.

Although Sir Everard Digby had been led by Catesby to believe that some of the Jesuit Fathers had given their approval to the Gunpowder Plot, and had special reasons, as we have seen, for imagining Father Garnet to be one of these, he does not appear to have thought that Father Gerard knew anything about the matter, or would have consented to it if he had known of it: for, on his arraignment, he declared that Father Gerard was ignorant of it, and that he had never mentioned it to him,[225] "alleging the reason," "because, he said, he feared lest" that Father "should dissuade him from it." So here we find him acting in opposition to his greatest friend--his "brother," as he called him--the priest who had received him into the Church, and was his chief spiritual adviser. A good Catholic might lawfully act in opposition to the opinion of his confessor or director in matters open to difference of view, especially when that opinion was only suspected, and had not been delivered; but on such an all-important question as this, he might have been expected to consult Gerard, although it must be remembered that he had been a.s.sured by Catesby that another Jesuit had approved of the plot.

[225] Father Gerard's letter to the Bishop of Chalcedon. See _Life of Father Gerard_, p. ccx.x.xviii.

There is one consideration on this subject which is of the highest importance, namely, that Garnet was the Provincial, that is to say the superior and the very highest authority among the Jesuits in England, at that time, and therefore the Jesuit of all others most in communication with Rome, and most likely to know the mind of the General of his Order as well as that of the Holy Father himself.

During October, not only Catesby, but other conspirators visited Gothurst. Among these was Fawkes, the adventurer who was intended to be actual perpetrator of the terrible deed. He was not altogether ill-born, being a member of an at least respectable family in Yorkshire, his father having been Registrar and Advocate of the Consistory Court of York Minster.[226] He was thirty-five years old, and he had seen much of the world, having entered the Spanish army in Flanders and been at the taking of Calais by the Archduke Albert in 1596.[227] He was a man, too, who made some profession of devotion as a Catholic.[228] Father Greenway describes him as[229] "a man of great piety, of exemplary temperance, of mild and cheerful demeanour, an enemy of broils and disputes, a faithful friend, and remarkable for his punctual attendance upon religious observances." He had been to Spain, on the private emba.s.sy to Philip II.

with Christopher Wright, and he had a brother then a barrister in one of the Inns of Court in London. Therefore he was not ill-fitted by his antecedents to be received as a guest at Gothurst, shrink as we may from the idea of such a man being admitted to the house of the gentle Lady Digby.

[226] Jardine's G. P., p. 36.

[227] Beeton's Encyclopaedia, Vol. i.

[228] Narrative of the Gunpowder Plot, by J. Gerard, pp. 59, 60.

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